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Teachers are creatures of habit. Being willing to change habits means a willingness to improve teaching.

From our earliest days in school, we absorb the habits and practices of our teachers who, in turn, learned to teach from their teachers standing at the front of the class, delivering one-size-fits-all whole-class lessons, using textbooks, taking attendance, filling out plan books, averaging grades, assigning homework, and keeping kids after school—and doing it alone.

In the process we internalize notions about good teaching without much scrutiny. For instance, a history teacher develops the notion that he needs to be able to answer any student question, when in fact he might better stimulate thinking by conjuring “unanswerable” questions. Or more likely, he believes his students must take notes every day to learn what he knows, rather than seek answers to authentic, worthwhile questions from widely available resources, thus inviting thinking into the classroom.

Or, a math teacher who internalized one way of learning math as a pupil now repeats the same pattern with her students. She begins each class by having students put homework on the board, corrects the examples, and collects the homework. She teaches a new concept, and then allows time to start the homework assignment before the bell rings. Had her math teachers allowed time in class for her and her peers to invent solutions to problems and present them to the class for scrutiny, for example, she might have become a different––and better––math teacher.

Habitual practices can constrict us from seeing other possibilities. Many of us internalize the weekly approach to lesson planning as the proper way to prepare. Friday is test day, we deliver material Monday through Wednesday, and use Thursday for review. We’ve sat through countless such classes, so it’s no wonder many of us replicate this practice. This routine, which appears sensible on the surface, fragments thinking and learning, because it does not allow for flexibility and in-depth exploration. It is, however, the perfect coverage methodology. And, we can say we’ve done our job.

For more ideas about how to make meaning see Chapter 6 in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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